November 2018

Group of young professionals

Workshops Teach Salary Negotiation

At a recent workshop in downtown Boston, the mostly female audience was asked whether their anxiety level goes up when they ask for a raise or negotiate a salary for a new job.

Hands shot up, and the room erupted in boisterous conversation. “I’m worried about being perceived as being greedy,” volunteered one woman. Another said that her employer told her she earns less than her coworkers because she’s only in her 20s – “even though I’m doing exactly the same things!”

Workshop facilitator Lauren Creamer explained that many women find it difficult to ask for a raise, because they face a double standard that treats them differently than men. “Women are expected to behave a certain way. They’re either nice or competitive and aggressive,” she said. Asking for a raise can be perceived as too aggressive.

Over a lifetime, lower pay for the same jobs their male coworkers are doing put millions of women behind the 8 ball when they’re trying to pay back student loans, buy a house, and save for retirement.

To help them overcome their fear of asking for a raise, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is introducing salary negotiation workshops around the country. “Pay equity – and financial security – is one of our major goals right now,” said AAUW’s Alexandra Howley, who coordinates the Massachusetts program with the Boston mayor’s office and the state government.

In AAUW’s workshop in Boston last month, Creamer and Robbin Beauchamp gave advice in four areas to the women – and three men – attending.

Know Your Value

  • Before negotiating a raise, be clear on the unique benefits you bring to your workplace – effective facilitator, top salesperson, organizer, etc.
  • When applying for a new position, tailor your skills and experience to fit the job description in a way that highlights your value to a prospective employer.

Know Your Target SalaryLearn More

2 heads in illustration

Why Couples Retire Together – or Don’t

Married couples don’t necessarily know what the other spouse is thinking about retirement.

This insight came out of a new Fidelity Investments survey that asked some 1,600 people if they knew when their significant other planned to retire. Only 43 percent answered the question correctly. This disconnect reveals just how few couples are talking about retirement, said Fidelity spokesman Ted Mitchell, who worked on the survey.

Fidelity’s survey went out to adults of all ages, so the younger ones no doubt felt they’re too young to be thinking – much less talking – about what their lives will be like decades from now.

But things change as couples age. When retirement comes into sharper focus, it’s natural to start talking through the options – mine, yours, and ours.

One option is to retire around the same time, and prior research has shown that roughly half of older couples do so.

New research takes a more nuanced look at how couples retire and finds a more complicated picture.  Mixed arrangements are common in the pre-retirement years. Perhaps one spouse continues working full-time, even though their partner has retired, or one spouse might shift down to part-time work while the other is either still in a full-time job or has already retired.

Two sentiments are usually in conflict when older workers are trying to decide whether to retire: a longing for more leisure time and a need to bank more in savings, Social Security, and pensions.

Spouses often influence one another’s retirements for a variety of reasons, including their health, their relative ages, and how much each one likes their job. But financial security is usually a major consideration. …Learn More

Illustration of a city skyline

Millennial Cities and Those Left Behind

Sumat Lam, a recent college graduate, was skeptical when his Silicon Valley employer transferred him to Austin, Texas. What he found was a high-tech mecca that defies the stereotypes of 10-gallon hats and Southern drawls.

Google, Apple and Amazon have established outposts in the “Silicon Hills” of Texas’ Hill Country. The young workers moving there are “bringing in their culture and influences from Boston and New York,” Lam told VOA News.

Taylor Hardy lives in Dayton, Ohio, but she might as well be living on a different planet.

This young nursing assistant can barely eke out a living. Her plight is shared by too many others in this former industrial hub that has been in a downward spiral that accelerated after plant closings by National Cash Register and General Motors during the last recession. The loss of high-quality blue-collar jobs contributes to Dayton’s 35 percent poverty rate – nearly three times the national rate.

Table of city rankingHardy, a single mother, and the boyfriend who lives with her, earn a total of $27,000 a year – she has $5 in her bank account. “I work all these hours, and I miss all the time with my kids to make … nothing,” she said in the PBS Frontline documentary “Left Behind America.”

The contrasting fortunes in these two cities – Austin versus Dayton – are playing out around the country. Young professionals are streaming into Millennial boomtowns from San Francisco to Boston, where growth seems almost unstoppable. But outside these hot spots are struggling Midwestern and Northeastern cities that have become deserts, devoid of opportunity for their young adult residents.

“Historically, many young American adults have left their hometowns to chase better opportunities,” said Kali McFadden, senior analyst at Magnify Money. “But not all millennials have the same work opportunities,” she said about her firm’s new city ranking of the employment available to young workers. …Learn More

Woman looking at mountains

A Proposal to Reduce Widows’ Poverty

A dramatic decline in widow’s poverty over a quarter century has been a positive outcome of more women going to college and moving into the labor force.

Bar graph showing percentage of povertyYet 15 percent of widows are still poor – three times the poverty rate for married women.

A new study by the Center for Retirement Research takes a fresh look at Social Security’s widow benefits and finds that increasing them “could be a well-targeted way” to further reduce poverty.

Widows are vulnerable to being poor for several reasons. The main reason is that the income coming into a household declines when the husband dies.  The number of Social Security checks drops from two to one, and any employer pension the husband received is reduced, or even eliminated if the couple didn’t opt for the pension’s joint-and-survivor annuity.

While one person can live more cheaply than two, the drop in income for new widows often isn’t accompanied by a commensurate drop in expenses.

Another issue begins to develop as much as 10 years before a husband dies. Prior to his death, his declining health may increase the couple’s medical expenses and reduce his ability to work, depleting the couple’s – and ultimately the widow’s – resources.

The irony today for wives who worked is that their decades in the labor force generally improve their financial prospects when they become widowed. Yet, under Social Security’s longstanding design, they receive less generous benefits than housewives – relative to the household’s benefits prior to the husband’s death. …Learn More

Parents’ Education Key to Child’s Security

“Seven Up,” a famous British documentary series, interviewed 7-year-old schoolchildren in 1964 and filmed them every seven years after that.

Over the documentary’s 49-year span, viewers watched the children’s lives take shape. A boy at an upper-crust boarding school goes to college and on to teach math at a prestigious private school. A girl educated in a working-class school in London’s East End is just able to make ends meet as an adult. A young equestrian from a wealthy family raises her own privileged children. A boy in an orphanage becomes a bricklayer.

These personal profiles at the heart of “Seven Up” reverberate in a recent, unrelated, academic study that has reached a similar conclusion: parents’ investment in educating their children is the ticket to financial security as an adult.

The researchers estimated that people with the college-educated fathers earned nearly $400,000 more over their lifetimes (at today’s pound-dollar exchange rate) than the people from less-educated families. They analyzed periodic surveys of 9,436 people in England, Scotland, and Wales between ages 7 and 55. …Learn More

balancing scales

US Inequality is Feeding on Itself

The fact that the richest Americans are grabbing such a big slice of the pie isn’t exactly breaking news.

What is news is that Wall Street is getting nervous about it. Moody’s Investors Service, a private watchdog for the federal government’s fiscal soundness, has concluded that inequality has reached the point that it threatens a system already being strained by increases in the federal debt. But Moody’s also noted that inequality is contributing to slower economic growth, which further aggravates inequality.

The high level of U.S. inequality today “sets us apart” from Canada, Australia, and several European countries, Moody’s said in an October report, “Widening Income Inequality Will Weigh on U.S. Credit Profile.”

Moody’s central concern is how inequality will affect the federal budget. When the economy slows in periods of high inequality, there are more lower-income households requiring support from costly programs like Medicaid.  Federal tax revenues also decline during any downturn, leaving less money to pay for these means-tested programs and for social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The firm’s second concern is that inequality is a drag on the economy. When the middle-class is squeezed, for example, they have less money to buy consumer goods. And when the economy slows down, inequality can increase, as it did in the years after the 2008-2009 recession.

This has played out in a widening wealth gap, Moody’s said.  The typical lower and middle-income worker’s net worth – assets minus liabilities – has shrunk since the recession, while net worth rose sharply for the people at the top.

One big reason for widening inequality is the stock market. Even though the market declined sharply this month, the post-recession bull market has beefed up investment portfolios – but only for the 50 percent of Americans who own company shares or stock mutual funds.

A second contribution to a widening wealth gap, post-recession, has been housing. A home is often the most valuable asset people own, so the steep drop in house prices and the spike in foreclosures were big setbacks for people who aspired to build wealth through homeownership. …Learn More